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Another Ukrainian flight lands at Mattala pending approval for new set of guidelines ahead of BIA opening

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Udayanga denies accusations

By Shamindra Ferdinando

The fifth flight carrying Ukrainian tourists landed in the country’s second international airport at Mattala yesterday (7) as the SLPP government vowed to go ahead with what Tourism Minister Prasanna Ranatunga called a pilot project of pivotal importance in the run-up to re-opening of the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA).

Minister Ranatunga told a gathering at Minuwangoda that in spite of some hiccups the pilot project was on track. The minister acknowledged the recent problems caused by the failure on their part to adhere to specific health guidelines in place to neutralize the Covid-19 threat. The SLPP Gampaha District heavyweight said that approximately 600 Ukrainians were here since the arrival of the first flight on Dec 28.

The fifth flight had brought 183 passengers though the original schedule envisaged 215 persons, an aide to Minister Ranatunga told The Island.

The entire group and the airline crew were subjected to PCR tests.

Responding to another query, the official said that with the latest arrivals, the total number of visitors was approximately 800.

According to a copy of the schedule made available to The Island, there would be altogether ten flights from Ukraine before the government re-opened the BIA on January 21.

There would be two more flights on January 22 and 24 from Ukraine to Mattala after the re-opening of the BIA, the official said. Acknowledging that their original plan was to bring in 2,580 passengers in 12 ‘Sky Up’ and ‘Ukrainian International Airline’ flights from Dec 28, 2020 to January 24, 2021 to test Sri Lanka’s preparedness to re-open BIA.

The official said that some of those who had been planning to visit Sri Lanka pulled out at the last moment though the vast majority responded positively. All flights originated from Ukraine’s capital Kiev.

The remaining flights are scheduled to touch down at Mattala on January 8, 12, 14, 15, 19, 22 and 24. All remaining flights will also originate from Kiev.

The official said that authorities expect over 2,000 to visit Sri Lanka though the original plan was to facilitate the arrival of 2,580.

Referring to the recent incident at Yala where Ukrainian project prompter Sri Lanka’s former Ambassador in Moscow Udayanga Weeratunga had been accused of violating agreed health protocols, Minister Ranatunga said that once they realized the shortcomings immediate remedial measures were taken.

Minister Ranatunga claimed that due to the delay in the Tourism Ministry receiving relevant health guidelines, they weren’t available down the line, hence the breakdown in communications. However, acknowledging their shortcomings, Minister Ranatunga also faulted those responsible for organizing the Ukrainian project for not properly informing them.

According to Minister Ranatunga, three companies had been involved in the pilot project to allow visitors from what he called the Russian region.

The Tourism Ministry promptly responded to Sri Lanka Tourism Chairperson Kimarli Fernando’s scathing attack on protocol violations. In a letter dated January 2, 2021, Fernando warned of dire consequences if tour operators were allowed to flout protocols.

Explaining the measures adopted by Ukrainians before the groups departed, Minister Ranatunga emphasized the need to have a different set of protocols/guidelines in respect of tourists. Those who visit the country for a week or two couldn’t be expected to follow the procedures in place for those Sri Lankans returning home, Minister Ranatunga said, revealing that the Tourism Ministry had sought approval from health authorities for a new set of protocols ahead of the opening of the BIA.

The minister said that they expected the approval ahead of the BIA re-opening.

Minister Ranatunga said that health guidelines meant for tourists would prevent transmission of coronavirus from tourists to locals and vice versa.

Explaining how the places for Ukranians to visit were chosen, Minister Ranatunga assured they wouldn’t be taken to Dalada Maligawa if the Buddhist clergy opposed it.

According to the Minister, of the 600 who had been here before Thursday’s arrivals, only two were tested positive for corona. However, earlier media reported that six Ukrainians had been tested positive.

Meanwhile, State Minister Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, appearing in ‘Aluth Parlimenthuwa’ on Wednesday (6) strongly defended the government decision to launch pilot project ahead of the re-opening of the BIA. Acknowledging the risks involved, Dr. Godahewa explained that the government couldn’t delay taking meaningful measures to kick start tourism until Covid-19 epidemic was brought under total control. Responding to former JVP lawmaker Dr. Nalinda Jayatissa, State Minister Godahewa emphasized the need to go ahead with tourism revival plans regardless of criticism.

Pointing out how the government swiftly responded to criticism pertaining to the Ukranian project, Dr. Godahewa said that in spite of immense challenges, the government efforts to improve the situation were on track. The tourism project was a key part of the overall project, the Viyathmaga heavyweight said, dismissing Opposition accusations of incompetence and unilateral measures at the times of unprecedented crises.

Former Ambassador Weeratunga appeared on television on Wednesday to defend the ongoing project. Weeratunga said that though there had been some issues with the project there was no basis for accusations that protocols were violated. Weeratunga emphasized the need to provide an opportunity for tourists to visit the country.



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President Ranil Wickremasinghe calls upon chief prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters

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(pic courtsey Divaina)

President Ranil Wickremasinghe called upon the chief prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwatta chapters on Thursday (02) morning to seek their blessings ahead of the 75th Independence day celebrations.

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US secures deal on bases to complete arc around China

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US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin (R) was in the Philippines to finalise the deal (picture BBC)

BBC reported that the United States has secured access to four additional military bases in the Philippines – a key bit of real estate which would offer a front seat to monitor the Chinese in the South China Sea and around Taiwan.

With this deal, Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south.

The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints, Taiwan and the South China Sea, or the West Philippine Sea as Manila insists on calling it.

The US already had limited access to five sites under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) – the new additions and expanded access, according to a statement from Washington, will “allow more rapid support for humanitarian and climate-related disasters in the Philippines, and respond to other shared challenges”, likely a veiled reference to countering China in the region.

The statement came after Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin met Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr in Manila on Thursday.

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Nuland accuses China of failing to help SL with ‘credible and specific assurances’ acceptable to IMF

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Nuland addressing the media in Colombo (pic by Thushara Atapattu)

US hopes LG polls will be held in March

By Saman Indrajith

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland, yesterday said China had not provided credible and specific assurances to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for Sri Lanka to overcome the current economic crisis.

Addressing the media in Colombo, Nuland said: “What China has offered so far is not enough. We need to see credible and specific assurances that they will meet the IMF standard of debt relief. We, the United States, are prepared to do our part. Our Paris Club partners are prepared to do their part. India has made strong commitments that it will provide the credible assurances the IMF is looking for.”

Nuland said that India and the Paris Club had given strong assurances to the IMF to help Sri Lanka to obtain a $2.9 billion bailout.

“We want to see an IMF program as quickly as possible. That is what Sri Lanka deserves; that is what Sri Lanka needs,” Nuland said.

Nuland said the US would give Sri Lanka an additional USD 30 million to provide 96,000 schoolchildren with food.

She said Sri Lankans had taken to the streets, last year, demanding cleaner, accountable and inclusive governance, with transparency, and the government was expected to hold the elections to enable people to enjoy their democratic rights.

Nuland said that the US was glad to see that consultation between the government and other parties towards reconciliation had commenced. She said that she had met with members of the Tamil political parties, earlier yesterday. “We hope that the dialogue will continue to achieve real results such as return of the lands to their rightful owners.”

Nuland said that the US hoped that local elections would be held in March, the dialogue commenced for reconciliation would continue, and the Prevention of Terrorism Act would be reformed to meet international standards.

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